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Register of the Hans Suess Papers
MSS 0199  
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  • Preferred Citation


    Title: Hans Suess Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1875-1989
    Collection number: MSS 0199
    Extent: 23.60 linear feet (56 archives boxes, 1 card file box and 5 oversize folders)
    Repository: Mandeville Special Collections Library, Geisel Library, UC, San Diego
    La Jolla, CA 92093-0175
    Shelf Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Language: English.

    Preferred Citation

    Hans Suess Papers, MSS 0199. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.


    Papers of Hans Suess, an Austrian-born geochemist who pioneered radiocarbon dating techniques and was a founding faculty member of the University of California, San Diego. Suess worked with Hans Jensen on the development of the nuclear shell model, a project for which Jensen was later honored with the Nobel Prize. Roger Revelle recruited Suess for the faculty of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1955, and three years later Suess became one of the first four faculty members of the newly-established UCSD campus. Suess served as professor of Geochemistry at UCSD from 1958 to 1977 and was designated Emeritus Professor in 1977. Suess was responsible for developing carbon-14 dating theories and has contributed to knowledge of the origin of the elements and the evolution of the solar system.
    The papers span the years 1875-1989 and are organized into eleven series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS; 2) CORRESPONDENCE; 3) CONFERENCES; 4) CONTRACTS, GRANTS, and PROPOSALS; 5) SUBJECT FILES; 6) AWARDS; 7) TEACHING MATERIALS; 8) WRITINGS BY SUESS; 9) WRITINGS BY OTHERS; 10) PHOTOGRAPHS; and 11) PHOTOCOPIED ORIGINALS FROM THE COLLECTION. The collection contains correspondence with prominent scientists and UCSD faculty, including Gustaf Arrhenius, Jomar Brun, Werner Heisenberg, Hans Jensen, Maria Goeppert Mayer, Roger Revelle, William Nierenberg, Linus Pauling, Carl Sagan, Leo Szilard, and Harold Urey. Many of the correspondence files and the writings by Suess are in German.


    Hans Eduard Suess was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1909. He was the son of Franz E. Suess, former professor of Geology at the University of Vienna, and Olga Frenzl Suess. His grandfather was Eduard Suess, who wrote THE FACE OF THE EARTH, an early work in geochemistry.
    Suess studied chemistry and physics at the University of Vienna where he received a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1935. He conducted postgraduate research at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Zurich and the First Chemical University Laboratory in Vienna. In 1938, Suess accepted a position at the University of Hamburg. As assistant professor at the Institute for Physical Chemistry in Hamburg, Suess conducted experiments involving the technical production of deuterium. During World War II, he belonged to the group of German scientists assigned to explore the possibilities for utilizing atomic energy. Suess also served as scientific advisor to the heavy water plant in Vemork, Norway, which was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1943. During the war years, Suess became interested in theories of the origins of the elements, and in 1948 and 1949 he worked with Hans Jensen on the nuclear shell model. Suess was co-author with Jensen on a seminal paper on the nuclear shell model. Jensen was later awarded a Nobel Prize for his participation in the development of this model.
    In 1949 Suess received an invitation from Professor Harrison Brown to visit the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago as a research fellow. Suess immigrated to the U.S. in 1950 and spent 18 months in Chicago conducting research in Harold Urey's laboratory. Suess worked as a physical chemist for the U.S. Geological Survey from 1951 to 1955. In 1955, Suess accepted an offer from Roger Revelle to join the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1956, Suess established the La Jolla Radiocarbon Laboratory. The findings of this laboratory, which utilized innovative carbon-14 measurements, included important contributions to many fields of modern science.
    Suess was one of the first four professors appointed to the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, upon its inception. He served as professor of Geochemistry from 1958 to 1977. His courses included cosmochemistry and radiochemistry. Suess' research has focused on the distribution of carbon-14 and tritium in the oceans, the abundances of the elements, and other problems of cosmochemistry. In 1977, Suess was named Professor Emeritus by the University of California. While at UCSD, Suess also acted as consultant to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
    Among his accomplishments as an experimental scientist, Suess was responsible for developing and improving radiocarbon dating. In addition, he has contributed to solving problems concerning the origin and synthesis of the elements and the evolution of the solar system. One of Suess' major contributions is work that led to the development of the shell model of the atomic nucleus.
    Suess was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965, the V.M. Goldschmidt Medal in 1974, and the Leonard Medal of the International Meteoritical Society in 1977. He has served many guest professorships at European universities and is a member of several scientific academies, including the National Academy of Science. His bibliography is extensive and notable for its documentation of the development of the carbon-14 dating process.


    The Hans Suess Papers document the career and achievements of a renowned geochemist. The materials in the collection date from 1875 through 1989. The nineteenth century papers pertain to Suess' father, Franz Eduard Suess, professor of Geology at the University of Vienna. The majority of the papers date from 1955 through 1977, the years when Suess was professor of Geochemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego. The papers contain extensive correspondence with international scientists and include a comprehensive collection of Suess' writings, both published and in manuscript form. The collection provides documentation of Suess' activities at UCSD and in international scientific organizations. Also present in the collection are materials pertaining to Suess' activities at the University of Hamburg during World War II.
    BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS include biographical statements and genealogical charts of the Suess family. The Biographical Statements file contains Suess' description of his wartime activities involving deuterium and the heavy water plant at Vemork, Norway. Many of the statements are written by Suess and provide insight into his own perception of his life and achievements. Additional biographical information can be found in the correspondence files of Christabelle Bielenberg and Marc Walker.
    CORRESPONDENCE is the largest series in the collection and contains letters between Suess and several prominent scientists of the twentieth century, as well as faculty members who helped establish the UCSD campus. Details about the history of UCSD can be gleaned from the correspondence files of several faculty members.
    Correspondence files are arranged alphabetically by surname of correspondent. Correspondence for individuals represented by fewer than three items is filed alphabetically in miscellaneous files for each letter of the alphabet. Prominent correspondents include Gustaf Arrhenius, Harrison Brown, Jomar Brun, Werner Heisenberg, Hans Jensen, Joseph Mayer, Maria Goeppert Mayer, Roger Revelle, William Nierenberg, Linus Pauling, Carl Sagan, Mrs. Morton Sobell, Leo Szilard, and Harold Urey.
    The Arrhenius correspondence dates from Suess' early years at Scripps and involves exchange of scientific data. Correspondence with Harrison Brown relates to Brown's invitation to Suess to visit the University of Chicago as a research fellow. Suess' immigration difficulties are discussed, and Brown states that Suess must verify that his activities in Germany during World War II were not considered for prosecution at the Nuremberg trials. The Jomar Brun letters contain a discussion of secret war operations and Brun's role in heavywater production.
    The Werner Heisenberg correspondence is in German and includes wartime letters that discuss the social responsibility of German scientists under the National Socialist regime. The majority of the correspondence with Hans Jensen is in German and contains many exchanges of scientific data and information. The file contains a letter from Jensen to Roger Revelle (in German) describing Maria Mayer's contribution to the development of the nuclear shell model. Included is correspondence regarding Jensen's proposed UCSD faculty appointment, which was precluded by Jensen's death. The Jensen file documents his long friendship with Suess and includes a few items of ephemera.
    Correspondence with Maria Mayer dates from 1950 to 1959 and includes subjects related to the University of Chicago and UCSD. The file contains a letter from Suess to Roger Revelle recommending that Dr. Mayer be appointed to the UCSD faculty. The William Nierenberg file includes a discussion of the nature of Suess' faculty appointment at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Correspondence with Linus Pauling involves nuclear structure and magic number theory.
    The Roger Revelle correspondence dates from 1955 to 1986 and pertains to administrative and scientific matters, including the interchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere and the ocean. The Carl Sagan file contains a small amount of friendly interchange of scientific information. Correspondence with Mrs. Sobell includes a request for assistance in obtaining clemency for her husband, Morton Sobell. Suess' response indicates that, unlike his colleague Harold Urey, he declined to help the Sobells. The Harold Urey correspondence documents the collaborative work performed by Urey and Suess, including their book on the abundance of the elements. A discussion, dated 1966, on the state of UCSD's architecture may be of interest to UCSD historians.
    The CORRESPONDENCE series includes two sets of collected correspondence. The Chronological File of Office Correspondence, UCSD Department of Chemistry, provides a day-to-day record of the activities of Suess' office for the years 1960-1979. The Correspondence Regarding Research Projects During World War II is in German and consists of photostats and typed carbon copies. These letters pertain to scientific research projects conducted at the University of Hamburg during the years 1942-1944. The information is technical and administrative and reflects the coordination of activities between the University, industrial firms, and the German government. While no substantive information about the war is contained in these letters, several pieces are notable for the wartime convention of using the closing expression "Heil Hitler."
    The CONFERENCES series is arranged chronologically and includes materials relevant to some of the conferences and symposia attended by Suess during his career.
    CONTRACTS, GRANTS AND PROPOSALS are arranged by name of granting institution. This series contains proposals and final reports of research projects conducted by Suess during his years at UCSD.
    The SUBJECT FILES document many of Suess' personal and professional activities during the years 1939 to 1989. The Notes and Data subseries includes raw and interpreted data concerning carbon-14. The Passports subseries contains Suess' passports and visas from World War II. The Applications file illustrates the difficulties Suess encountered with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1950's. These documents also include statements by Suess describing the nature of his political affiliations and activities in Germany during World War II. Subject Files relevant to UCSD include various committees and the Radiocarbon Laboratory.
    The AWARDS series contains a few certificates and awards received by Suess and includes a complete list of the awards and honors achieved during his career.
    TEACHING MATERIALS are arranged chronologically and consist of a small amount of lecture notes, visual aids, problem solutions, and study guides from cosmochemistry and radiochemistry classes taught by Suess at UCSD.
    WRITINGS BY SUESS is an extensive series divided into three parts: Numbered Publications, General Writings, and Writings by Suess as Co-Author. This series contains a complete collection of Suess' published work as well as manuscripts and typescripts of other work. Many of these writings are in German. The Numbered Publications are publications by Suess that were numbered by his secretary for retention in his academic archives. The original numbering system has been maintained in this collection. The remainder of the writings is arranged chronologically.
    The WRITINGS BY OTHERS series is arranged alphabetically by surname of first author. Authors represented in this series include UCSD faculty and graduate students and many international scientists.
    PHOTOGRAPHS is a small series consisting of photographic prints of meteorites and comets, photos of Suess and others. Several portraits of Suess dating from 1960 to 1980 are included. In addition the series contains two photos of Suess' father and grandfather.
    ORIGINAL MATERIALS PHOTOCOPIED FROM COLLECTION contain documents that have been photocopied for preservation purposes. The copies of the original documents are foldered in the appropriate location in the collection.
    Miscellaneous files from Suess's laboratory.